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New committee looks for ways to make downtown Colorado Springs safer

October 15, 2013 Updated: October 15, 2013 at 9:02 pm
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Aerial view of downtown Colorado Springs Thursday, January 24, 2013. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

They came from a variety of sectors - city government, the police department, the business community and residents - to discuss one topic: downtown safety.

But one meeting isn't enough. The new Downtown Safety Committee plans to meet twice a month for at least three months so its members can come up with recommendations for Mayor Steve Bach, his chief of staff Laura Neumann, Police Chief Pete Carey and Colorado Springs City Council to address a range of issues plaguing downtown, such as panhandling, vandalism and even human feces on public walkways.

"The city of Colorado Springs is committed to restoring downtown Colorado Springs as the heart of our city," a committee statement says. "Safety, both real and perceived, is critical to a vibrant downtown. It is a top priority of the city to ensure that visitors, residents and business owners feel downtown is a safe, friendly and thriving environment.

The committee is the brainchild of Aimee Cox, the city's senior Economic Vitality Specialist. Cox said the Downtown Partnership previously ran a safety committee, and the time seemed right for the city to re-establish the group. The city is taking the lead, she said, because a number of city departments might be needed to help solve downtown's problems.

"It will help us decide where to invest our resources," Cox said.

The group held its second meeting Monday and discussed homelessness, panhandling, better security for businesses and pedestrians, and drugs.

A few ideas already have emerged: linking the city's public camera system with security cameras at private businesses; sending some people who commit nonviolent misdemeanors to a downtown community court rather than through the regular court system; changing landscaping and infrastructure to improve public safety; and connecting the homeless with available services.

But Bob Holmes, chief executive officer of Homeward Pikes Peak, said some homeless people aren't here to get services. They're here because of the state's medical marijuana laws.

"We are attracting a lot of people who suddenly are not asking for regular services," he said, "and instead asking where they can get a Colorado ID card so they can use that to obtain a red card."

Holmes said downtown also seems to be experiencing an increase in the number of people using methamphetamine.

One element of downtown that already has gotten safety upgrades is the parking garages. Gregory Warnke, parking administrator for Parking System Enterprise, told the group that three of the city's parking garages have a total of 16 security cameras recording people's actions.

"Some of those were not there before, so we are covered much better than before," he said.

Wylene Carol, a member of the Downtown Residents Coalition, attended Monday's meeting and said she was pleased to see so many representatives from various organizations and city departments on the committee. Carol has lived off Tejon Street since 2001, and said several improvements have occurred over the years, including a larger police presence. Still, she would like to see continued improvements in other areas, such as the implementation of a late night noise ordinance and restrictions on panhandling and homeless people hanging out on street corners.

"I would like to find some way to deal with people who are genuinely deserving of help," she said, "but keeping them off the streets at the same time."

The committee's meetings are open to the public. The next one is 3:30 p.m. Nov. 14; the location has not been determined.


Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.

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